Country Report 2009: Italy - IEA Bioenergy Task 40 - Sustainable International Bioenergy Trade

Sep 2009

Bioenergy is a growing business for Italy. The use of biomass feedstock from agriculture (including energy crops) and agro-industrial residues is increasing; in 2007 the production of electricity from biomass and biogas increased by +3% and +8% respectively. In 2008, 34 biomass plants and 36 bioliquid plants (essentially running with pure vegetal oils) were active. The number of biomass plants running on vegetable oils has been growing steadily in the last few years and has now reached the number of traditional solid biomass plants.
The growth of the Italian bioenergy sector is relying on the establishment of a stable regulatory framework, that has evolved significantly during the last three years. Among the major advancements, the financial law 2008 introduced a special support scheme for small scale projects with a production capacity of up to 1 MWe. As far as energy crops are concerned, according to various sources, in 2007 the area of oil crops dedicated to biodiesel production was estimated at around 60.000 ha, whereas over 5.100 ha of land were dedicated to the cultivation of short rotation plantations of poplar.
Italy is the largest European market for pellet stoves coupled with a pellet market that is essentially comprised of domestic heating. In 2008 over 1 million tons of pellets were distributed, but the Italian production capacity was not being fully exploited and significant imports were observed, one of the biggest trading partners being Austria, exported over 250.000 tons of pellets to Italy.
As far as biodiesel is concerned in 2007 the total production of biodiesel in Italy was 469.707t but only 202.035t was distributed to national market and in 2008 significant trade flows of biodiesel were registered, especially with other EU countries. Most of the biodiesel produced in Italy today derives from imported feedstock, the main part of which is rapeseed oil, whereas the primary feedstock of national origin is sunflower oil, followed by rapeseed and soybean.
In addition to biodiesel, bioliquids, especially vegetal oils may have an increasingly important role in the future Italian bioenergy scenario. A significant number of bioenergy projects should be implemented in the framework of the reconversion of several former sugar plants, now closed after the European reform of the sugar industry. Though most of the feedstock should be produced locally, the implementation of these bioenergy projects may provide opportunities for the trade of vegetal oils and oilseeds.
Bioethanol is another important issue in the Italian bioenergy sector. In 2005 bioethanol for transport represented only 5% of the ethanol market and was distributed uniquely as an additive (ETBE), not as substitution fuel in gasoline blends, despite the existence of biofuel obligations. Due to some bureaucratic and normative gaps, in 2006 and 2007 not a single liter of bioethanol was used as transport fuel and in 2007, the production of fuel grade ethanol was entirely exported to Sweden. Without the full introduction and adoption of reduced excise duties, that has been delayed by the uncertain normative framework of the past few years, bioethanol blends are uncompetitive with traditional fossil fuels for transports. At present only a production quota of 1 million hectoliters per year of ethanol is eligible for a reduced excise duty and it is going to be used mainly for ETBE production.

By: M. Cocchi, S. Capaccioli, F. Vivarelli (Etaflorence)

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